Written by Marley Jeranko
Photos by Nikki Smith
What you’re about to read—know that it could have turned out a lot differently. We could have flooded this page with climbing photos and intense try-hard faces as if to say, Here. Look. Aren’t we so strong? But if you really wanted the whole picture of Womxn Up, you wouldn’t have gotten it.
Not because the climbing was easy—not because these women weren’t strong—but because this event wasn’t about proving our strength. It was about feeling strong and in turn, empowering one another. So instead, we talked to people—face to face.
Nikki Smith explains it best herself…
“Portraits are a frozen snapshot of someone’s life. They help connect us more personally to an individual than an action photo allows us to. Events like Womxn Up help empower us to find our voice and take those experiences back with us to our day to day. These portraits can hopefully help amplify the voices of all the amazing people interviewed and show that there isn’t one group of people that belong in climbing.
“Hopefully others will see themselves in the photos and be reassured that they are not alone.”
What this all boils down to is belonging. We all want to feel like we belong—and the hard truth is that climbing hasn’t always been on our side. I’ve experienced it—most, if not all of these women have experienced it—maybe you know, too. Womxn Up exists to counter that, and together Mountain Hardwear and Touchstone have lent themselves to holding the mirror. And for a few days, I got to feel what it’s like to have my reality reflected back at me in the sport that I love and see what the future could look like. That matters, and I am so proud to be a part of a company and a community that agrees.
Thanks for being here,
Marley, MHW copywriter
Home gym: Great Western Power Company (Oakland, California)
“When I started climbing, I walked into a climbing gym, and I was the only woman there. I would try to find lady climbers—I grew up in Florida, so there’s a very small climbing community there to begin with—and it was just a dude-show. To walk into this event in 2019 and have a part in creating this amazing space where women can support each other, make friends with each other, and climb for years together is so, so incredible. It’s so touching to be a part in it because I didn’t have this when I started. I can bring new climbers into this space and say, ‘this is climbing now—this is for you—this is amazing,’ and it really means a lot.”
Pronouns: She/her/he/him/they/them—whatever floats your boat.
Home gym: Dogpatch Boulders (San Francisco, California)
“Climbing is still so male-focused as a sport, and I think that women in general are a little less aggressive at the gym, so for me it’s nice that there’s going to be only women climbing here. It just really changes the energy of the whole space, and it feels more comfortable.”
Home gym: Berkeley Ironworks (Berkeley, California)
“At first I didn’t enjoy bouldering. Everyone’s sitting there watching you do it—it can feel like a performance, and I get really nervous. But I don’t feel like that when I’m surrounded by a crew of my friends. It feels safe to mess up and just be myself. I started Queer Crush at Ironworks to create a safe space for folx in the LGBTQIA community to show up as themselves. If you’re new to climbing or new to town looking for friends to climb with, it makes it easier to find safe partners in a supportive and accepting environment, and I feel like Womxn Up is with us in that goal.”
Home gym: Cliffs of Id (Culver City, California)
“It’s a totally different perspective on climbing. I set with a mostly guy crew, and it can be a very muscly, very jumpy-move-to-pinches climbing, so I love seeing a bunch other strong women of all shapes and sizes—of all strengths and weaknesses—just crush on stuff I’ve set, on stuff my coworkers and these other lovely women setters have set and pull through with whatever it takes.”
What was your favorite part? “The top!”
Home gym: Berkeley Ironworks (Berkeley, California)
“I feel the strongest when I use my voice in a brave way. If someone is saying something not cool or doing something not cool and I say something to them in opposition to that—that’s the type of stuff that makes me feel empowered. With the Brown Ascenders, my whole goal is to create space for folks who are not normally included in the conversation when it comes to climbing and to bring people in who thought climbing wasn’t for them. Working with Touchstone and them making it possible for us to have access to this for free was amazing to me. They’ve been investing in us and our community, and it makes me want to be a part of what they’re creating.”
Home gym: LA Boulders (Los Angeles, California)
“The sense of community and watching dads bring their little girls to come and climb is pretty awesome.”
Home gym: Dogpatch Boulders + Berkeley Ironworks (Bay Area, California)
“I have a good group of girlfriends and guy friends who I enjoy climbing with and who have always provided support both physically and mentally, so I actually don’t think about gender that much. My partner was at Womxn Up, and it was awesome! He helped me with my climbing strategy which involved choosing the right problems and conserving energy. Just having him there cheering me on was pure joy. I saw a lot of other supporting groups of all genders which warmed my heart. And to see all these ladies so excited about having a women’s only competition—it’s infectious.”
Home gym: Kiipeilyareena (Helsinki, Finland)
“I love setting because it’s both creative and physical, but back home, there’s not that many women setters, so it’s a special experience that at Womxn Up, you get to set with a bunch of girl crushers. The energy has been so good, and we have so much fun working really hard.”
Home gym: Momentum + The Front (Salt Lake City, Utah)
“This was my second Womxn Up, and this one was much larger than 2018’s. It’s great to see events like this continue to grow. There is still a long way to go, but the growing participation shows that there is a need for more: more diversity, more representation, and more inclusion. I’m excited to be a part of the call for change!”